Grudge Match: Benro S6 vs. Manfrotto MDEVE Tripod
I’ve been enjoying the MeFOTO line of travel tripods. They’re small, relatively lightweight and have a big enough screw at the mounting plate that you can put a proper video head on them (I like the Manfrotto 701 for performance/price). I’ve been shooting B-roll the last few days for a few projects with a MeFOTO + 701/Velbon head with a slider with good results. BUT, there have been occasions when I really wanted a tripod with a leveling base. Imagine trying to grab a quick pan shot but you are on rocky uneven territory. Instead of micro adjusting the legs to get the tripod level, you can ballpark the leg heights and level off the video head with the built in leveling bowl. BAM, you’re in business!
Shot with a MeFOTO Road Trip tripod and slider!
I happened to ride to the local pro store this afternoon and they had two tripods that I had been researching about on the internet: the Manfrotto 755XB MDEVE and an S-series Benro Video tripod (carbon fiber model with S6 head). These are sort of tweener video tripods that aren’t meant for huge cameras but work well with small systems like DSLRs and m43rds cameras and are probably the most bike-able video tripods on the market (very important being a cyclist). I was excited to actually try these hands on, especially to see if the 15 degrees of tilt with the 50mm bowl heads would be sufficient.
So I proceeded to do a “camera store fondle test”, as the name implies I fidget with the gear under the suspicious gaze of the camera store employees. My findings in my very unscientific and surreptitious test were quite surprising! I’ll be honest, I had been looking pretty seriously at the Manfrotto MDEVE and was about to pull the trigger on one, but after handling the Benro tripod I had to rethink everything.
I have owned a lot of Manfrotto products. It’s just a name you trust and QR plates can be purchased at almost any camera store. I came in with high expectations for the 755XB. The legs were solid, no-nonsense and utilitarian. They slid out quickly and flip locks were herky and secure. BUT, the leveling bowl (the whole point of wanting to buy it) was sort of…meh. First off, you have to reach almost a foot beneath the bowl to unscrew the lock. Why it’s so far away is beyond me. I wish they would offer a shorter video-specific version so you can get some nice low shots. Secondly, the bowl that I fondled didn’t move very easily. It was pretty gritty and sort of indexed into place. It did the job, but it didn’t feel that happy doing it. I did appreciate that the plate on the bowl had little anti-rotation grub screws that let you really lock down a video head so it won’t move during a pan.
Benro Carbon Fiber S6 Kit
Benro is sort of a newer player in town and their S-series tripods have only been out for a very short while. So while I’ve admired their products from afar, I’ve been a little skeptical about their quality. However, after using the MeFOTO tripods the last few months I’m pretty sold on their brand. The carbon fiber tripod with the S6 head was pretty sexy when compared to the aluminum Manfrotto. It isn’t a fair apples to apples comparison, so I tried not to let the material choices obfuscate other qualities about the tripod. Build quality was surprisingly good. I felt that the lever locks weren’t as tight as the Manfrotto but they could be adjusted. I wasn’t about to raise more ire from the staff behind the counter by fiddling with the tension on the locks. The leveling bowl was blue instead of red on the Manfrotto (a sort of Crips vs. Bloods motif). To release and tighten the bowl there was a little knob right at the base (for better photos check out this great review). It was quick and easy to operate. The BIGGEST surprise was how smoove (so smooth its smoove) the bowl moved. If using the Manfrotto was sort of like jogging with sand in your shorts, the Benro was like a roadie slicked up with chamois butter (apologies for the imagery, but I AM trying to bring it back to cycling).
So there you have it. The general build qualities are about on par, which is to say that they’re both solid sticks. Of course, long-term testing is needed to determine how well they hold up (a camera store fondle won’t reveal those imperfections). BUT the action of the leveling bowls are not equal with the Benro being the superior one in both operation and smoothness. The only advantage Manfrotto has in the bowl department are the grub screws that let you really crank down on your video head. Which one would I buy? Easily the Benro. I actually offered to purchase just the sticks right there on the spot, but they wouldn’t sell it to me without the head. They didn’t have the aluminum version of the Benro tripod there, or I would have bought that on the spot too. Oh well. As a side note, the leveling bowls on the heads are both 50mm (pretty small) and offer 15 degrees of tilt. I had my worries that this wouldn’t be enough leveling capability, but after in-store fondle they’re just about right.
If you enjoyed this review, consider buying either the Benro S6 Tripod Kit or Manfrotto from these links. Every bit helps!
-more bang for your buck
-smooth operating bowl leveler
-surprisingly high quality build
-comes with great padded bag!
-no grub screws to secure video heads
-locks felt a little soft
-established brand, parts can be found in most camera stores
-solid legs and lever locks
-grub screws to put your video head on lock down!
-leveling bowl about as smooth as running with sand in your shorts
-more expensive in comparison